8 Current Fashion Trends That Belong To Feminists

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Think about the cute wide-legged pants and blazer you’re wearing today and how good they make you feel every time you put them on. You can thank second-wave feminism for that. Not only did the feminists of the ‘60s and ‘70s continue the hard work started by suffragettes at the turn of the century, fighting for social, economic, and political equality for women, the '60s agitators also happened to reinvent women’s fashion. For example, Betty Friedan (author of The Feminine Mystique) rejected traditional women’s fashion as both a source of restriction and limitation placed on women by patriarchal forces. She saw it as a trivial distraction from more important women’s issues. On the other hand, Gloria Steinam, an activist who was constantly on TV and in the media, was aware of how fashion's role in self-expression.
Regardless of their stances, both of these pioneers changed women’s clothing through their politics. It was not, of course, their intention or their focus, but in their battle for gender equality, they — and others like them — managed to subvert the dominant paradigms that dictated how a woman should look. The interesting thing is that many of the “styles” (not that they were considered styles in the first place) continue to influence how we dress today. From the slouchy, oversized jeans you love so much to the boxy blazer you wear with your dresses, these items are symbolic of the women who fought against the limitations of their gender.
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Miniskirts are a contentious clothing item for Second Wave Feminism, but when they first emerged as a serious trend in the ‘60s, they were considered liberating. Popularized in 1966 by British designer Mary Quant, who sold them out of Bazaar, her Chelsea boutique, the miniskirt was first intended for practicality, as a means of setting women free from burdensome hemlines and the sometimes suffocating clothing they were required to wear for the sake of modesty. Parts of the feminist movement at the time saw the miniskirt as a statement about femininity, a chance to shed the constraints of body shame and imposed proprietary, and a way to take pride in female flesh and sexuality. Like an early foremother to #freethenipple, the miniskirt was a statement against restrictive ideas about female sexuality dictated by patriarchal norms and a symbol of cultural rebellion.

The flip side was that many feminists saw the miniskirt as pandering to the male gaze and hyper-sexualizing women at a time when the focus should have been squarely on the politics of gender parity, rather than fashion. As the feminist movement intensified in the ‘70s, the miniskirt came to be seen more as a tool of objectification and fell out of favor with feminists. This debate between objectification and liberation in fashion is one we still grapple with today in feminist discourse — and the miniskirt is still at the centre of this fray. It's a scapegoat for victim-blaming and a reminder that even though some women might be sexually liberated, we still have a long way to go before we’re equal.
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What we refer to as a “boyfriend” blazer now was initially worn by women antithetically. Feminists began wearing men’s suiting as a way of distancing themselves from the gender binary arbitrarily imposed by clothing. Fighting for personal and professional equality, feminists rejected styles that might be seen as provocative and alluring. So, women wore oversized blazers and pants as a means of leveling the playing field between themselves and their male counterparts.

It was part of the notion that to be taken seriously in a man’s world, one must present themselves “like a man.” Though this idea may seem problematic now, the counter-argument was, according to Janet Allured, sound for the times: “Women internalized the values of their oppressors and feel it necessary to dress as men wanted, because it curried favor with the people in power.”

The visual symbolism of clothing had a lot to do with gender roles, and traditional “housewife” garb was infantilizing, while more provocative styles were seen as equally frivolous. In order to show they meant business about equality, women in the feminist movement shunned clothing that delineated the role of women as domestic or sexual and adopted a more masculine-style dressing as a means of competing for equality with their male counterparts.
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Wide-Legged Pants
As feminists were rejecting being objectified by male desire and clothing like the miniskirt, they adopted wide-legged pants. This happened largely in tandem with the hippie movement of the ‘70s, when the Bohemian aesthetic became wildly popular. So, palazzo pants and your much-loved culottes were born as a symptom of women rejecting patriarchal norms in fashion.

The wide-legged pants movement and boho style adopted by some second-wave feminists also involved a lot of pattern mixing (and matching), something we still love doing today. This was as much about rejecting traditional feminine identity as it was about establishing individuality, as Marjorie Jolles writes: “This trend stands in stark contrast to earlier ways women and girls were instructed to dress. If they were once encouraged to cultivate one look to express their identity, girls and women now show their fashion savvy by coming up with unlikely combinations of styles worn together, suggesting a preference for multiplicity over a singular look or a singular identity.”
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Oversized Shirts
Like boyfriend blazers, you probably like to wear your shirts oversized and slouchy, waist and breast darts be dammed! History Wired suggests that the adoption of gender-neutral clothing was a challenge to the status quo: “Many young women contested the idea that beauty — defined by narrow, Eurocentric standards — was their duty.”

Oversized shirts and T-shirts were a staple of the working class and as feminism sought to not only reject antiquated ideals about femininity, it also sought to engage with a populist aesthetic easily recognizable by society as a sphere in which women didn’t normally “belong” — but were determined to break into.
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Second-wave feminism completely rejected the wearing of high heels. So, loafers, the shoe du jour these days among busy fashion types and other professionals, became the norm. These women waved off stilettos because they were seen as yet another hyper-patriarchal means of restricting and fetishizing women.

As Aurora Linnea notes in The Feminist Current: “Feminists came to recognize and resent ‘femininity’ as a contrivance of traits and behaviors imposed upon women by male supremacist culture.”
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Photo: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images.
Jeans, a staple today in most women's closets, were adopted by women in the 1960s as another way to claim traditional men's fashion for their own. Wearing jeans casually was intended to “minimize the significance of gender” by putting emphasis on the chasm between old-world femininity and the new generation of women seeking equality between the sexes. By wearing jeans, which were both masculine and working class, second-wave feminism started a style revolution. After all, jeans are now considered gender-neutral.
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Photo: Getty Images.
No Bras
There’s a lot of contention around whether or not bras were burned during the second-wave feminist movement. Some say that when feminists were protesting the Miss America pageant at the Atlantic City Convention Center in 1968, bras were thrown into a bonfire along with other signifiers of oppression, including girdles, high heels, fake eyelashes, and copies of Playboy and Cosmopolitan. However, Robin Morgan, organizer of the protest, says no bras were burned and that misnomer is a “media myth.” Either way, many second-wave feminists eschewed the notion wearing of bras, even if they didn’t necessarily burn them.

Bras, like high heels, were considered restrictive and part of a patriarchal regime that castrated women under the burden of uncomfortable clothes designed not only in an impractical fashion, but in the further fetishization of women. These days, not wearing a bra is a statement in itself. It has become popular again over the past year or so, not just as a feminist liberation, but because some tops really do just look cuter without a bra underneath them. Meanwhile, there’s a reason you love taking your bra off at the end of the day so much — because they’re horribly uncomfortable!
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Photo: Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet/Getty Images.
Vintage Style
As part of their rejection of restrictive femininity, second-wave feminists avoided the burden of consumerism imposed on women and opted for sourcing their clothes in vintage stores. Thrifting is still (perhaps more than ever) immensely popular among the fashion set. Not only does it promote ecological sustainability, it’s a way to avoid the cumbersome dictates of an ever-changing capitalist marketplace that insists women need the newest clothes and accessories in order to be desirable. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, this was a conscious “opting out” of the controlling fashion institution, and a means of liberating women from slavishly following trends dictated by patriarchal industry.

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